In my dreams, it’s raspberry fields forever

Raspberries, like any fruit we plant, represent an act of faith.

As others are doing this time of year, this past weekend I dutifully dug little holes, added amendments and planted a long row of sad little sticks, carefully watering them in. Three or so years from now, perhaps sooner, I’m confident that I’ll be harvesting mounds of delicious red raspberries from these sticks.

Now that’s belief in the future, displayed on a dizzying number of levels: I’ll be here, the raspberries will produce, and all the work in between today and then has magically occurred. The garden fairies during the intervening years have been hard at work staking, weedeating, watering, amending, cutting out old canes, perhaps netting the plants from greedy birds, which I’m quite sure were salivating in nearby trees even as I laboriously dug and planted in the field below.

I’m suddenly reminded of one of the many Henry Mitchell writing jewels sprinkled throughout his columns on gardening. “Cats, by the way,” he astutely noticed when discussing raspberries, “are no answer to anybody’s bird problem, since then you would have cats.”

Don’t, please, now fire off a letter to the editor in defense of cats, because this is a sore point with me. I’m currently helping to feed no fewer than five of them — which I’m still at a complete loss to explain how such a feat occurred — because that’s way into creepy cat lady territory, where I swore I’d never go. Only Jack the barn cat, by any stretch of the imagination, can be considered to be earning his way in this world, in that he occasionally awakens from his naps long enough to swat casually at a mouse or two before heading back to slumber in the hay bales. The other four cats exist simply thanks to my largesse, which they’ve yet to show any gratitude or appreciation for, despite great expense and no small expenditure of labor on my part.

In my raspberry fantasies indulged in over the weekend, I envisioned harvests of such abundance I’ll probably be able — no, forced — to open a pick-your-own raspberry farm. Here lies every farmer’s secret fantasy: a farm (and to farm) with no labor.

Hah. Back to reality.

Raspberries, as with all things in life, respond in corresponding measures to the love lavished upon them. They will survive in poor soil, and fight their way through weeds and a dearth of moisture, to spit out a seedy berry or two. But give them lots of attention — rich soil, adequate moisture, plenty of room to grow — and the return is raspberries by the bowls full, nay, by the pails full.

One of the most elaborate raspberry plantings I’ve heard of is recounted in a book titled Ten Acres Enough, first published in 1864, by Edmond Morris. This was a man serious about his raspberries.

Morris was a city slicker who dreamed of the country life. After turning 40, he moved to New Jersey (which isn’t as weird as it sounds, because New Jersey at the time lived up to its moniker, “the garden state,”) with his family, and commenced to farming.

In addition to blackberries and strawberries, Morris planted raspberries, and lots of them — 5,656 plants, or nearly two-acres worth, all within his new peach tree orchard. It took him three days, but he was well satisfied with the results:

“I am sure the growth of my raspberries was owing, in a great degree, to the deep ploughing the land had received. The soil they delight in is one combining richness, depth and moisture. It is only from such that a full crop may be expected every season. The roots must have abundance of elbow-room to run down and suck up moisture from the abundant reservoir which exists below.

“Deep ploughing will save them from the effects of dry weather, which otherwise will blast the grower’s hopes, giving him a small berry, shriveled up from want of moisture, instead of one of ample size, rich, and juicy. Hence irrigation has been known to double the size of raspberries, as well as doubling the growth of the canes in a single season. Mulching also is a capital thing.”

Good advice, then and now.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Gearing up for spring

Kathy Calabrese, who makes herbal-medicine products such as lip balms, sprays and salves using herbs she grows at her Whittier home or gets from local farmers, is glad to see winter go — not so much the passing of winter weather, though that was rough enough this year, but because those long months of squeaking by financially are coming to an end.

“I’ve been more or less living off credit cards,” Calabrese said, only partly in jest. Additionally, the start of the season is fun, she said, and serves as an opportunity to see other local farmers and the familiar faces of regular customers.

“It’s really exciting,” Calabrese said.

Most vendors get a jumpstart into spring by participating in local growers’ festivals, such as one this month in Jackson County — the Appalachian Grower’s Fair — and one next month in Waynesville — Whole Bloomin’ Thing Festival in the Frog Level District.

“The festival has become an excellent outlet for the local growers,” said Jim Pierce, an organizer of the Whole Bloomin’ Thing. “They look forward to getting their business kick started this time of year.”

The festival, which has maintained a true local flavor despite burgeoning growth, connects growers with the community. And that in turn leads to sustained support the rest of the year, Pierce said.

After the spring festival season wanes and before the fall festival season kicks-in, most of these make-a-living-off-the-farm folks can be found anchoring local farmers markets.

Robyn Cammer of Frog Holler Organiks in Haywood County, like Calabrese, is also happy to see winter go.

“There’s 90 days to pay the bills for the year,” Cammer said of the mad rush that marks the lives of most farmers when spring arrives.

Frog Holler Organiks has found its niche primarily by making and selling biodynamic garden soil, a blend of what Cammer describes as “hyper humus-rich growing mediums” containing a “full mineral and nutrient spectrum.” The farm also offers fresh vegetables, berries, eggs and more, but the most important financial leg on this farm’s stool is the garden soil sold by the scoop.

Cammer and other small farmers in Western North Carolina are juggling work with marketing, plus finding the necessary time to actually sell the products they produce. Like Calabrese, Mernie Wortham, who has Falcon Hill Farm in Jackson County, is set to work both festivals as a vendor. She sells products developed directly from her farm, including soaps, shampoo bars, and fiber products such as knitted items and yarn from her sheep and llamas.

“It’s very good to get back out there and be in the community,” said Wortham, who also sells through the Jackson County Farmers Market in Sylva.

Wortham, like other farm vendors in the region, are impressed with the sustained interested in local foods and other locally produced items they are seeing and experiencing.

“It is growing, and continues to grow, and we’d love to see it grow even faster and quicker and bigger,” Wortham said.


Get your garden off to a good start with spring growers festivals

Two local grower’s fairs are on the horizon, the Appalachian Growers Fair in Sylva, and the Whole Blooming’ Thing Festival in Waynesville. The festivals are wildly popular home gardeners looking for vegetable and herb starts, annuals and perennials. Savvy plant buyers have learned to come early with stack of cash in hand and wagons to haul their potted finds — and to set aside plenty of time the rest of the weekend to get their new plants in the ground.

Appalachian Growers Fair

Saturday, April 16, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Monteith Park in Dillsboro. A chance to buy plants and seeds and other agriculture-related items as a fundraiser for Full Spectrum Farms, which is a service organization dedicated to providing a full spectrum of life’s opportunities for persons with autism.

828.293.2521 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Whole Bloomin’ Thing

Saturday, May 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Frog Level district in Waynesville. More than 50 local growers, area artisans and a variety of nature-related professionals will be there, selling locally-grown garden starter plants, flowers, crafts and other beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day. 828.734.5819.


Farmers markets begin rolling out the green carpet

It’s that time of the year, and farmers markets across the region have — or soon will — open for the season.

• The Haywood’s Historic Farmers’ Market will open on Saturday, April 16, the earliest opening date in its history. Growers have been busy getting spring crops ready to sell, as well as vegetable and herb starts and perennials for gardeners. This will be the market’s third full season of offering locally grown produce, farm-fresh eggs, baked goods, cheese, preserves, local meat, fresh North Carolina seafood and heritage crafts.

Haywood’s Historic Farmers’ Market is held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday at the HART Theater parking lot Pigeon Street (U.S. 276) in Waynesville.

• The Jackson County Farmers Market opened last weekend at its usual location at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva, held Saturdays from 9 a.m. until noon. In addition to plants, seeds and greens, honey, breads, sweets and locally made crafts, this year’s market sees an expansion into local meats. 828.631.3033.

Stay tuned to the calendar section of The Smoky Mountain News for farmers market listings as more markets, from Cherokee to Cashiers to Canton, begin to open for the season.

Suggestions what, when to plant veggies

As I noted in this space a couple of weeks ago, this is the time of year to order seeds and plan your garden. If like me, you are snowbound, thinking about gardening makes for pleasant thoughts.

So, what follows is a list of some of the varieties I’ve had success growing as a market farmer in Western North Carolina. They’ll work wonderfully for the home gardener, too.

Planting dates vary according to elevation. I trialed these at less than 2,000 feet on a southern-facing slope. Keep trying different varieties until discovering those that work best for you.



• I’m a fan of greasy beans for good, old-fashioned taste, and they’ve been grown for a long time here in the Southern Appalachians. Beg some seed off a neighbor, or visit the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center at and order a pack. Greasy beans need trellising, and you also have to string them before they are cooked, but in my book the great taste outweighs any inconvenience.

• Looking for ease of growing and for a prolific return — plus a purplish-red bean that actually retains its beautiful color when cooked? Grow red noodle beans, an Asian yard-long bean. I grow these on a teepee trellis. Be forewarned, like many Asian varieties, red noodle beans are short-day plants. This means they won’t start producing until after mid-summer. I like them raw, stir-fried or sautéed with onion and garlic.

• A good bush haricot vert is Maxibel. I grew these early last year, and enjoyed the taste and abundant production. Pick when skinny and you don’t need to string.

• Soybeans: Easy to grow, and hard to beat in the taste department. I steam them green, unshelled, and scrape the beans out of the pods with my teeth — delicious. The only variety I don’t like is the one most farmers here grow and swear by — butterbean. I like any of the others, though, and there are plenty to choose from.



• Early Wonder Top. The best beet for early planting — and I do mean early, as in mid to late February. These have been bred for good cold emergence, though they are also fine for later plantings. I seed with no cover or other protection. Every few weeks, I sow again, for spread-out bounties of beets. Cook the leaves like you would any other green.

• Bull’s Blood beets, despite the somewhat off-putting name, produces beautiful purple leaves that are perfect when cut small for salads. Bull’s Blood produces an OK beet, but grow this one primarily for the leaves.



• If you can, start early broccoli inside or in a greenhouse in mid January, transplant to the garden toward the end of February or early March — be prepared to cover against the cold when temperatures threaten to drop below 20 degrees. Early broccoli is worth the effort. Tendergreen works well for this. In the fall, use Arcadia.



• I like mini cabbages, such as Gonzales or Caraflex. Perfect for one or two people, with no waste. I use the same planting schedule and methods as outlined for broccoli. I cover both broccoli and cabbage with insect barrier just before the bug invasion to avoid using spays.

• I grow Chinese cabbage in the fall, using in the place of winter-finicky lettuces. My favorite variety has no name, and is known only by WR-70 Days, Hybrid, available through the Asian vegetable seed specialists, Kitazawa Seed Co., www.kitazawaseedcom. This produces a large, beautiful head from a plant that is forgiving of various soil and weather conditions. I direct seed into the garden in August. You can grow Chinese cabbage in the spring, but be prepared to fight an insect invasion if you do. The same holds true with bok choi (pac choi).



• Mokum for early carrots, Nelson for late spring, Sugarsnax for summer and Scarlet Nantes for the fall and winter (buried under mulch or protected by two layers of row cover).



• When it comes to corn, I like the old standby Silver Queen for my sweet corn, Merit for pickling and Hickory Cane for grits and cornbread. Space issues this year might prevent me from planting corn — it needs to be planted in blocks, not single long rows, to ensure good pollination. I’m not sure there’s anything much more beautiful than the sight of honeybees working corn tassels in the morning sunlight, or any more glorious sound than the contented buzzing roar they make when doing so.



• I planted Suhyo last year, a burpless Asian type, and liked it. You need good honeybee activity for success at cucumbers. No bees, no cucumbers. Also, a good steady supply of water is required.



• These are transplanted to the garden after it gets warm, so you need to either buy plants or start them inside during early March. I like to pre-germinate the seed by placing them in moist papertowels tucked into an open plastic sandwich bag in a warm place (the top of a refrigerator is good). Then, using tweezers, plant the seed in cups when germinated. I’ve had decent success with the Asian types, but plan to try something more traditional this year.



• This is an endless subject, and starts by defining what one means by “greens.” In this case, I’m referring to cooked ones. Some people plant greens such as kale and Senposai (a wonderful, hardy and productive Asian green, do try it) in the spring. I prefer to do most of my cooked-green plantings in the fall, however. Then I also plant collards, Georgia Southern or Vates, and mustards (green wave and red giant). Turnips such as seven top, grown for the top and not its root. When it comes to kale, Red Russian grows well in WNC, as does most any other variety.


Greens, salads

• One of my market specialties was a pre-mixed, pre-washed salad. I love growing salad greens by broadcasting the seed thickly on top of a prepared bed, scraping it about using a rake to lightly cover with dirt. Then cut with scissors when the leaves are no larger than the size of your hand. The greens grow back readily if given water and adequate nutrients. Arugula is great if you like it, sorrel, black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce, claytonia (an interesting and should-be-better-known native North American salad green), golden purslane, tatsoi (a great-tasting Asian green) are a few of the easiest ones to grow. I also like baby mustard leaves in my mix, and add whichever fresh herbs and edible flowers are on hand.



• I start leeks in February. Put potting soil in a pot, sprinkle leek seed on top, and grow the plants until they are about the size of a pencil. Transplant into the garden then, by either trenching (the hard way) or sticking into a 6-inch hole made with a stick (the easy way). I’ve grown many varieties, but probably most enjoy the fall- to early winter-harvested ones, such as Tadorna.



• I talked some about leaf lettuce under salad greens, so here I’ll touch on head lettuces. I enjoy growing butterheads such as Tom Thumb and Buttercrunch. I start them inside during February and transplant in early March. Cover when temperatures drop below 20 degrees.



• I don’t like them. Not one bit, not at all. I don’t even like looking at them. You’ll have to get advice on this elsewhere, I’m afraid.



• I’ve grown from seeds and grown from sets (buttons) and grown from plants. Sets, for me, are easiest. Push into the ground and stand back. The varieties available at local feed and seed stores work fine for this purpose.



These have always been a struggle for me, but I know other gardeners and farmers in WNC produce beautiful crops. Sugar Ann is a standard snap pea. I’ve yet to grow a decent stand of English (shelling) peas.



• Because of our individual tolerance for heat, each person has to pick their own favorites when it comes to peppers. I will say this. You get a stronger, faster-producing plant if you start them inside in February, not the six-weeks-before-planting as most books suggest. Do not, however, plant them outside until mid to late May. These can’t take cold, not even a little bit.



• I like early potatoes best. Kennebec potatoes were traditionally grown in this region, and do well most years. Available in feed and seed stores locally, which saves shipping costs.



• I love them, so I plant them frequently in odd spaces left in the garden. Any of them are good, but Shunkyo deserves particular praise for having just the right combination of hot and sweet. In the fall, there are a number of winter radishes to plant, such as the Asian beauty hearts (who could resist with a name like that?), daikons and Black Spanish types. I’m still harvesting and eating some that were protected by row cover even now.



• A pain in the rear-end because the harvest window in WNC is often limited, but if you must have it try Space — this variety doesn’t bolt as quickly as some. How do you know when spinach is bolting? The leaves start getting pointy. Keep it harvested and well watered to prevent even more premature bolting. You folks at the higher elevations have the advantage in the spinach department — the cooler temperatures spell success when it comes to spinach.



• Traditional yellow and zucchini squash are prone to squash-vine borer decimation. Try tromboncino instead — it must be trellised, but the solid stems resist borers. In late May, direct seed winter squash such as spaghetti and butternut (also resistant to squash-vine borers). You won’t harvest these until September or so.


Sweet Potatoes

• In certain years they do terrific, other years growing them is just a waste of space. I like the old mainstay, Beauregard.



• Individual tastes make selecting varieties difficult. I’m partial to Brandywine, but you might not like it at all. The battle in WNC is blight. Spray, or grow under plastic, or just hope for the best (which usually doesn’t turn out all that well, to tell the truth).



• Grow in spring and fall. Purple top does great here, but Hakurei have a more refined taste.

A fine time to order seeds

One of my favorite annual events is set to take place Jan. 15. I share this information now because it takes time to mentally sort through a garden. Additionally, preparing a seed order often proves the highpoint of the gardener’s year. One should enjoy the experience for as much time as humanly possible before reality intervenes.

In my winter fancies, everything I sow germinates and grows on beautifully. Bugs never eat these plants. Early blight never comes and destroys my tomatoes. Just the right amount of rain falls, neither too much nor too little. Weeds don’t grow, voles and rabbits fail to chew, and I plant exactly what’s needed and no more. The harvest fairy comes along at precisely the exact moment she’s needed to pick the resulting bounty at the height of goodness, and she cans and freezes whatever the kitchen fairy hasn’t whipped up into lick-smacking, garden-to-table dishes.

While the dreams feel familiar, this year is actually proving a significantly different experience because I’m not planning out a market garden. Last January, I was ordering enough vegetable and flower seed to support sales at three weekly farmers markets. I’m studying the catalogs as always, but the order will be large enough to plant only a small space.

I confess to liking garden challenges, and enjoy setting yearly goals. This year, I plan to practice seed economy and true small-scale gardening.

Back to the seed order, the brainchild of my friends Ron and Cathy Arps, two superb small farmers who live and work in Sylva.

The group order will take place at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Jackson Street in Sylva from 9 a.m. until noon. You do not have to live in Jackson County to participate.  

The seeds will be ordered from Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which Ron noted in a recent email are “two of the leading seed companies that specialize in vegetables that have been chosen for taste, such as heirloom tomatoes, as well as a selection of seeds that are organically grown and not genetically modified (GMO).”

Flower, herb and cover-crop seeds, as well as onion transplants and sweet potato slips, can be ordered.

Catalogues for both companies will be available at the event, and seasoned gardeners will be on hand to help talk beginners through the process. Better yet, take a little time and go online to and Take a look at what’s available beforehand, and jot down any questions you might have. Bring the questions along when you place an order. Bring cash or a check, too — you’ll pay that same day. The seeds generally arrive two to three weeks later, and a pickup date and time is sent out.

Many wonderful things are accomplished through this group effort. Everyone qualifies for a 24 percent discount through Fedco, varieties can be ordered that aren’t available locally, and you’re helping small farmers also get that Fedco discount — and believe me, when one’s livelihood is tied to a garden, that’s a nice way to start off the farming year.

Additionally, people who like to grow things are, of course, there. I’ve always found people who garden and farm inordinately fascinating. They talk at great and discursive lengths about those very subjects I myself find endlessly interesting and entertaining, and they never grow bored when I talk about those subjects, too.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Plants that are easy to grow from seeds

We’ve talked about saving money by growing plants from seeds, and that many more plant varieties are available as seeds compared to what you find at the local nursery. Then we discussed how to get seeds to germinate and grow. Now you’re ready to start; here are some plants that are easy to grow from seeds.

Sow tomato seeds in the pots that the seedlings will grow in. If you want four plants, use four pots, etc. Tomatoes grow quickly, so use a pint size or larger pot. In mid-April sow 2 to 3 seeds in each pot about ? inch deep. Keep in a warm area, or use gentle bottom heat from a heating cable or pad. Germination should occur in about 5 days. When second leaves appear snip off all but the strongest sprout in each pot with scissors. Grow on the dry side, but don’t allow to wilt. Start hardening off May first. On May 15th remove all but 5 or 6 leaves at the top of the plant, then put in the ground deep enough so that only 6 inches of stem are visible. Additional roots will form along the buried part of the stem, making the plant stronger.

Start lettuce indoors March first to have plants ready for the garden in April. (Lettuce plants can take quite a bit of frost.) Put 2 to 3 seeds directly into a small pot, on the surface of the medium. Do not cover. At a cool room temperature seedlings should emerge in a couple of days; after a week or two thin to one per pot. Keep moist. When they are 3 inches tall, start hardening off, and plant outside at the depth they were in the pot.

Sow basil seeds in mid-March 1/16-inch deep in the seed flat. Keep in a warm area, or use gentle bottom heat. You should see the first seedlings in a couple of days. When second leaves appear transplant to individual pots. Keep moist. Start hardening off May first, and put in the ground in mid-May at the depth they were in the pot.

Start marigold seeds in early March about 1/8 inch deep in the seed flat. Seedlings should emerge within a couple of days at room temperature. When second leaves appear, transplant to pots. Keep moist. Start hardening off May first, and put in the ground in mid-May at the depth they were in the pot.

Buy pelleted petunia seeds; they are much easier to handle. Un-pelleted petunia seeds are microscopic. Sow in mid-March on the surface of the seed flat. Do not cover. Keep in a warm area, or use gentle bottom heat. Germination should occur within 5 days. When second leaves appear plant in individual pots. Grow on the dry side. Start hardening off May first, and put in the ground in mid-May at the depth they were in the pot.

Put the packet of snapdragon seeds in your freezer for a couple of days in early March, then sow on the surface of the medium in the seed flat. Do not cover. Keep in a warm area, or use gentle bottom heat. Seedlings should emerge within 5 days. When second leaves appear transplant to individual pots. Keep moist. Start hardening off May first, and put in the ground in mid-May at the depth they were in the pot.

Start zinnia seeds in early April about 1/8 inch deep in the seed flat. Keep in a warm area, or use gentle bottom heat. Germination should occur within a couple of days. When second leaves appear plant in individual pots. Keep moist. Start hardening off May first, and put in the ground in mid-May at the depth they were in the pot.

Growing plants from seeds can be rewarding, save you money, and is lots of fun. Give it a try!

Jim Janke is a Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828.456.3575.

Growing plants from seeds — the basics

Editor’s note: (This is the second of a 3-part series on growing plants from seeds.)

Growing plants from seeds can save you money, and give you many more plant varieties to choose from. If you provide the conditions they need, seeds will germinate and grow into healthy plants. Here’s how to get them growing.


Growing medium

What you plant the seeds in is important. The medium must be fine-textured and uniform; well aerated, but capable of holding moisture; have low fertility; and be free of insects, weeds and diseases.

The most popular starting media are peat-based, with vermiculite, perlite, or ground pine bark added. You’ll find these in seed starting kits at the home center or nursery, or in seed catalogs. Don’t use garden soil, potting soil, or topsoil: they are too heavy and do not drain well enough for germinating seeds and growing tiny seedlings.



Many different plastic containers for starting seeds are available. Compressed peat pots and peat pellets (that expand when soaked in water) are also good choices. But a wide variety of household containers will do just as well. Butter tubs, Styrofoam cups, cut-off beverage cartons, or anything else you have will work. Poke several holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. Wash the container completely, then sterilize by soaking in a 1% bleach solution for a few minutes, and allow to dry.



Some terms need clarifying. Most seeds are sown in a “seed flat.” Seedlings are transplanted into a “pot.” Seeds that will not be transplanted are sown directly in the “pot” where they will grow. Seed flats and pots may be placed in “trays” that allow watering the plants from the bottom.

The seed packet will tell you how far in advance of the last frost date to sow the seeds. The traditional last frost date in Haywood County is May 15th. Planting too soon results in plants that are too large to transplant easily. Planting too late delays flowering and fruiting. If no planting depth is recommended on the packet, cover the seeds only to their thickness. Don’t cover very small seeds at all. Separate seeds by a half inch or so; this will make transplanting easier. Cover the seed flat with clear plastic to keep the medium from drying out. Place the flat in a tray with enough water in it to cover the holes in the bottom of the container. Put the tray and seed flat in a warm, well-lit place, but not in direct sunlight. Monitor daily to insure enough water is in the tray.



After the seedlings emerge, remove the plastic cover. When the first true leaves (“second leaves”) appear, transplant into pots. Use a plastic knife or pointed craft stick to dig out a seedling, picking it up by the leaves (holding a seedling by the stem may permanently damage it.) Plant in a pot at about the same level it was growing in the seed flat.

Transplant only the number of seedlings you are going to use (with a safety factor built in.) Discard the others, however cruel this may seem, unless you wish to raise plants for your entire community. For example, if I need 25 petunias for a specific flower bed, I’ll plant 35 to 40 seeds, and transplant the best 30 seedlings. After planting outside I keep the 5 extra plants for a few days to make sure all the plants in the ground survive. Then I give the extras away.

You can sow some seeds directly in the pot that the seedling will grow in without transplanting. For example, sow 3 tomato seeds in each pot, then snip off all but the best seedling. Sowing directly into pots is best for hard-to-transplant varieties; check the seed packet for information.

Fertilize every two weeks with half-strength liquid fertilizer. Add water and fertilizer to the tray (instead of pouring on top of the seedlings, which can displace enough medium to expose their roots.) Keep the seedlings in a brightly lit area, but not in direct sunlight.

And that’s all there is to starting seeds indoors!


Other notes

Cleanliness is essential in your indoor greenhouse. Maintain this area as if it were your kitchen. If you bring plants in from outside to winter in the house, keep them elsewhere, because they are likely sources for insects that can infect your seedlings and be a general nuisance.

To move plants outside, slowly adapt them to outside conditions over a couple of weeks. Give them only filtered shade at first, and gradually allow them to see more and more sunlight. Then they’ll be ready for your beds or outdoor containers. This is called “hardening off.”

Don’t go on an extended vacation. This isn’t a whole lot of work, but it does require at least a couple minutes of attention every day or two. Seedlings allowed to go bone dry will not be happy.

Jim Janke is a Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828.456.3575.

Grow your plants from seeds

By Jim Janke

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on growing plants from seeds. Today we talk about the benefits of growing plants from seeds, and what seeds need to germinate. Next week we’ll discuss how to get them growing. And we’ll wrap up the topic in 2 weeks with examples of plants that are easy to grow from seeds.”

I started a packet of dianthus seeds on a whim almost 30 years ago. The plants grew well indoors and bloomed profusely the first year outside. I was hooked. Now I start 30 or more types of seeds indoors each year, including annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs. This series of columns will help you grow plants from seeds yourself. It is easy and fun.

Why grow plants from seeds?

If you want several (or more) plants of the same variety, starting plants from seeds can save you money. A packet of 30 tomato seeds might cost $2.50, from which you can reasonably expect to get at least 20 plants. Including growing media, containers, and the electricity to power a grow light or two, those 20 plants are likely to cost less than 50 cents each. What you are going to do with all those tomatoes, though, is a topic for a cooking column.

Or if you need two dozen marigolds, you can grow them from seeds for less than $10, when those same plants would cost $30 or more at the home center or nursery.

Another big advantage for growing plants from seeds is that you have access to many more varieties of flowers and vegetables. Home centers and nurseries typically stock only the most popular varieties. Seed catalogs have a tremendous selection.

For example, Stokes Seeds’ online catalog lists 127 different petunias in as many as 31 different colors and color mixes. They also list 100 different tomatoes, including beefsteak, cherry, plum, heirloom, greenhouse, and novelty types. Other seed companies have similar offerings.


What seeds want

(No, this isn’t a Mel Gibson film on horticulture.) The conditions both inside and outside the seeds must be favorable for germination. All seeds need water and air. Most have a specific temperature range that they like best. Lettuces like cool temperatures to germinate, while tomatoes do better in the 80° range. Many seeds — especially smaller ones like petunias and begonias — require light to get started.

Some seeds benefit from a dramatic change in the internal or external environment to help break dormancy. For example, parsley germinates better if you soak the seeds for a week before planting. Snapdragons and carnations benefit from putting the seed packet in the freezer for a day or two. Geraniums need to have their seed coats cut (although many geranium seeds come with this already done.)

In order to germinate the potential for producing a plant must be contained within the seed itself. This seems obvious, but seeds can lose their viability through age, or exposure to moisture, cold or heat. Each seed packet should indicate the year for which the seeds were packaged. Some seeds can be stored for many years, while others lose their viability quickly. Until you get some experience, using fresh seeds will improve your chances.

All of this sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. Seed packets have guidelines for when to plant, planting depth, the best temperature range, and if any assistance is needed to break dormancy. Catalogs from Stokes, Johnny’s and Territorial also have detailed seed starting information.

Jim Janke is a Master Gardener Volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 828.456.3575.

In winter, the joy of gardening is the beauty of a blank slate

By Marsha Crites • Guest Columnist

Whether I am working on a watercolor design, organizing a community group, decorating a room, or getting to know a new person, I always enjoy beginning with a blank slate. No old baggage, muddled colors, or overgrown shrubs to deal with; just a nice open space with no clutter. Remember as a child the joy of a blank piece of paper and a new 64 Crayola set? Ah, the possibilities.

Garden questions

By Jim Janke • Special to the Smoky Mountain News

Editor’s note: This is the first of what will become a regular feature on gardening by the Haywood County master gardeners. Look for it every other week.

“I can dig it, he can dig it,

She can dig it, we can dig it,

They can dig it, you can dig it........”

Getting close to the food you eat

By Adam Bigelow • Guest Columnist

The morning chill had lifted, mist had risen into the air, and as I walked towards the waiting group I had no idea what to expect from this day. We were all here for the same purpose, and my apprehension had not dissolved with the mist. I was running late this morning and afraid that I had missed the event, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the guest of honor. Tied to a swing set. Awaiting his fate.

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